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Good Judgment 

This week we taste two versions of two coffees: first, long-time favorite Tairora Project from the Eastern Highlands region of Papua New Guinea and a new-to-you coffee from Chema in the Kapchorwa region of Uganda. One bag of each coffee is labeled as tainted or defective, with the Tairora showing flavors of premature aging, or fade, and the Chema smelling and tasting of chemicals.

Notes on the Coffees

We have tasted coffee from the Tairora Project numerous times over the past few months and years, and this isn’t the first time that we have explored its highs and lows by comparing fresh-tasting and faded-tasting Tairoras on a cupping table. In prior tastings, we have acknowledged that Baroida and Tairora aren't necessarily exceptional for being inconsistent when it comes to fading, especially among farms in Papua New Guinea. Rather, they are exceptional for the fact that the Colbrans are happy to bag, label, and ship each day's harvest separately as opposed to blending it all together and mixing the better with the worse. We have also celebrated the work of the roasting department for cupping coffee from every ... single ... bag ... when it arrives before deciding whether it's fit to roast and sell (and over the course of the season, that’s at least 500 bags).

People, including some of you, I’m sure, have asked us whether it's worth the work. The coffee department has always said that it is because the payoff is so good. Tim has worked tirelessly over the past couple of years with Chris Colbran to communicate our experiences and encourage better infrastructure for consistent quality. Being thorough in our assessment and tenacious in the relationship have made it possible to strengthen the relationship and improve quality holistically (not just for Counter Culture's lots) at the same time, which is something we're way better at than the other coffee buyers we know.

If drying is comparatively easy to address, it should be a snap to fix Chema's tainted flavor because the chemical overwhelming the coffee comes from the paint—or perhaps a thinner added to the paint—that is applied to the jute bag. I always find myself feeling a little bit heartbroken when I taste coffees like this because I think about the fate of a bag of coffee hinging on one instant, and I imagine how it could have gone differently. On a less somber note, though, an instance of this same sort of accidental contamination occurred in Honduras in 2007 with ALL of the coffees from the Cup of Excellence competition, and the mill that made the mistake of using bad jute has recovered and since grown to be one of the most successful specialty mills in Central America, if not the world.

Chema's coffee would be a flat-out rejection for many companies, but because we tasted the good stuff first, we knew that some of it was good and as it turns out, only half of the bags are tainted (maybe because someone ran out halfway through, we don’t know). Uganda is a place where we are investing time and energy in cultivating relationships, and this is a new group for us, as well as a relatively young importer. So, instead of dismissing the coffee, we are taking the time to go through it in hopes of building good will and trust for the future.

If this seems like a lot of work, you’re right! As I said before, the payoff is great in Tairora’s case, and it has the potential to be great in Chema’s case, as well. Taking a bigger picture view, these bad flavors pose challenges, but they are of the sort that we as buyers are in a much better position to address than other challenges we face: potato defect, coffee leaf rust and its myriad effects, bad-tasting varieties, and, worst of all, low elevation. Nine times out of 10, if we can taste greatness in an inconsistent coffe,e and the growers or suppliers are willing to put in the work to change that, then we are, too.

Rollout Dates and Availability

We’re down to the final bags of Tairora, so enjoy these slurps! The harvest is underway in Papua New Guinea, and that means next year's crop isn't too far off. Chema will be a component of Number 46 this year, and our future purchases of this coffee aren't yet known, but Uganda is a place with a lot of potential for us. so we'll be hoping to hear, see, and taste more from this group in the months and years to come.

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They ain’t what they Llusta be

These coffees should taste familiar, but pay attention! Take notes! Today’s tasting is the last hurrah for Toscano as portrayed by Nueva Llusta from Bolivia and Haru in the role of Apollo. Just Wednesday we began roasting and selling new versions of these well-loved coffees: the Toscano shipping now is comprised of a just-arrived lot from Union El Triunfo in Chiapas, Mexico and Apollo of Suke Quto from Sidamo, Ethiopia.

Notes on the Coffees

I get excited about new iterations of products like Toscano and Apollo because change typically means fresher components (not to mention that I love adventure of all sorts, including of flavor). In Toscano’s case, though, I will admit to feeling a twinge of wistfulness today because Toscano (NL) has been so loved and appreciated in this current form, which is especially interesting given how bright it is and how seldom we think of Toscano for brightness. That said, we bought Union El Triunfo’s coffee last year thinking it would taste good in Toscano and it did, and I’m glad to have it back this year for Toscano. This is one of the strongest co-ops in Chiapas from social and environmental perspectives, and they have great cup quality potential, too.

Haru has held steady in its role as Apollo for many months and if we had more of it to sell, I’d feel comfortable continuing to do so, given how well it and Idido have held up. Alas, we finally reached the end of last year’s Haru and this year’s lots are somewhere between Yirgacheffe and Durham, so we went looking for alternatives and found Suke Quto. Suke Quto is a delicious organic coffee from Sidamo, Ethiopia that shipped early, and that is pretty much all we know about it. We are eagerly awaiting our coffees from our long-time supplier co-ops within the YCFCU but meanwhile, Apollo’s citrusy, floral flavor profile makes it hard to substitute coffees from other parts of the world.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see the same (but are they the same?) coffees on the table next week or the one to follow, so as I said, take notes!

Rollout Dates and Availability

These lots rolled over Wednesday, April 16, and we should be working our way through them over the next month to two months.
Attention Coffee Professionals: Please join us for our new Pro Dev series on Wednesday, April 30, at 3:00 p.m., at any of our Training Centers for a survey discussion of what is currently huge news regarding systematic changes to the coffee market in Nyeri, Kenya. Despite the relative radio silence about the origin in U.S. news, big things are brewing in the land of our beloved SL-28.

We'll talk about the situation; what it means for the future of Counter Culture favorites like Thiriku, Kangocho, and other lots from Nyeri; and taste some of the fruits of Timothy Hill's recent experimentation, labor, and new-relationship building in other regions of the country.

Counter Culture Regional Training Centers host monthly Pro Dev sessions the last Wednesday of the month. Free and open to all coffee professionals.

These events, which are free and open to all coffee professionals, focus on peer-to-peer professional education, palate development, and exploration into some of the most interesting and relevant topics in specialty coffee. They're a chance for coffee professionals to grow their skills and knowledge together in a noncompetitive, open environment, and to build conversations around the issues that matter most to the industry at large.

Nuova SimonelliTogether with the crew from Nuova Simonelli, four-time Irish Barista Champion Colin Harmon will introduce, demonstrate, and discuss the brand-new Mythos One espresso grinder, with Clima Pro technology. Is this grinder the future of espresso?Does temperature in grinding really make a difference? How quiet can a commercial-grade coffee grinder be?

Join us for coffee, conversation, and light refreshments on Tuesday, April 22, at 3:00 pm, at our New York Training Center and hear what Colin has to say about this new barista tool.

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Late Bloomers

Luis Huayhua (pronounced WHY-wuh) and Justina Ramos are two members of the Cenaproc co-operative whose coffees we have isolated from that of other coffee growers in and around the town of Nueva Llusta. Our current offerings from Nueva Llusta hail from the second half of the harvest, but Justina’s name should look familiar, as we sold an early harvest lot of hers at the end of 2013 along with a single farmer coffee from Irene Gomez.

Notes on the Coffees

We are always thrilled when we find exceptionally delicious coffees and that excitement is compounded when we can attribute multiple standout coffees to the same producer, not to mention the same producer twice in a single harvest! One of the realities of working with small-scale coffee farmers, even in ideal geographic conditions, is that many of them don’t exercise the level of control or monitoring of their processes necessary to create top-notch quality day in and day out. After only one year, we certainly don’t know Justina Ramos, her farm or her processes well enough to make sweeping pronouncements, but years of experience buying (and researching!) single-farmer lots have taught us that feedback is important, as is drawing a clear relationship between farming practices and taste quality. We have ten years of history with the Cenaproc co-op and we hope for at least ten more, so we are deep into our thinking about how to support members with standout coffees - Justina Ramos, Irene Gomez, Luis Huayhua (of whom we have more pictures than of all other Bolivian coffee producers put together, I’m certain) - and bring more growers, and more coffee, to a level of quality that is consistent. In our departmental cuppings, the Huayhua lot has nudged out the Ramos, but it’s anyone’s game on Friday and I’d love to hear your votes.

Rollout Dates and Availability

The Ramos lot will be available for ordering on Friday! Depending on how quickly we move through that lot, we may sell the two coffees side-by-side or we may begin selling the Huayhua lot when we run out of Ramos’s coffee. We have a total of four single-farmer lots from this shipment of Nueva Llusta to roll out, so you have even more to look forward to!

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Thrice is nice

Our late harvest lot from Nueva Llusta is holding strong as we prepare to shift our attention from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere.

Notes on the Coffees

Counter Culture ended up with more coffee from Nueva Llusta than we expected from 2013’s harvest, which almost never happens, and was especially surprising given that we spent years struggling to get anything remotely good, much less great, from the Cenaproc co-operative. We put pressure on Pedro Patana, the manager of Cenaproc, to ship coffee early and succeeded in getting the earliest arrival from Bolivia that we have ever experienced (and the best-tasting coffee from Nueva Llusta we have purchased, to boot). In the midst of emails about shipping the early lot, Pedro mentioned that twenty of their members beyond the twenty-eight contributing to the first lot wanted to submit coffee from their farms to us. We are pleased and proud that our project has gained such traction in Nueva Llusta that farmers are hearing about it and looking for ways to get involved, and we are already planning how we can do more in Bolivia in 2014.

Rollout Dates and Availability

We just began selling this second lot and we expect to keep them in stock through the month of May.
If you're in the Raleigh-Durham area this week, we're supporting two great events with coffee service: the Full Frame documentary film festival and All About Beer's World Beer Festival.

The Full Frame documentary film festival is running from Thursday, April 3, through Saturday, April 6, in Durham and is an annual international event dedicated to the theatrical exhibition of non-fiction cinema. Check out their website for details and a schedule.

The World Beer Festival, taking place in Raleigh on Saturday, April 5, is a chance to sample from more than 250 craft and specialty beers from around the world.





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Toscano Times Two


Ta da! Today, two Toscanos tickle your tastebuds! Each bag represents a different incarnation of Toscano, with the bag labeled Ecuador representing the most recent recipe we have been selling and the bag labeled Costa Rica the version that becomes available today (and by today I mean today, Thursday, March 20th).

Notes on the Coffees

Toscano Ecuador

The coffee that we had contracted for 2013 from the Fapecafes co-operative of Loja, Ecuador and which we were planning to sell as El Gavilán lacked the brightness and sweetness we expect from that coffee. While we opted not to feature the coffee as a straight, seasonal offering, we suspected it would taste good in Toscano. We also knew that the co-op’s members were struggling with coffee leaf rust and would be hard pressed to find another buyer for this coffee that didn’t meet CCC’s high standard but was still a far cry from average in value or quality. So we sacrificed our hopes for El Gavilán this year and bought coffee for Toscano and some really-great-but-really-small single-farmer lots.

Toscano Costa Rica

Between 2008, which was the last year in which we sold Cerro del Fuego (old-timers, you know what I’m talking about), and today your coffee department has tasted dozens of coffees from Costa Rica but declined to purchase any of them. Though some of these coffees have been delicious, they have also cost significantly more than coffees of comparable quality from elsewhere in the Americas, and the price-to-quality relationship tends to be especially skewed with organic coffees. In short, they haven’t been a good fit. So what makes today’s coffee different? The Costa Rican coffee that we will be using for Toscano for the next few weeks comes from six small estates (today’s is Linda Vista) located near the farm of a fellow named Tim O’Brien. We were introduced to Tim a few years ago as an employee of an importer we do business with and he is now building his own importing business. He’s excited and motivated to do good work for CCC, so we bought the best coffees he was offering from the 2012/2013 harvest both in order to get our relationship with him started on a good foot and to continue pushing to get better, sweeter coffees into Toscano. All of these coffees were dried with a focus on water activity and low moisture, which has helped their stability, and I think you’ll like the way they taste. 

Rollout Dates and Availability

We just began selling Toscano (Costa Rica) today and we will probably only have it for two weeks or so before we move into another coffee. What coffee, you ask? Well, it depends on what arrives and tastes right in these next two weeks. Never a dull moment here in the coffee department.